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Columns: Keeping Content Alive

By Michael O’Connell-Davidson on May 07, 2018

Keeping Content Alive

Final Fantasy XIV is a big game. Maps are separated by loading zones, so Eorzea doesn’t feel quite as open as, say, Azeroth, but there’s a lot to do. There are 60 dungeons and nearly 50 trials, and, thanks to the roulette system, these all get run almost every day.

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And that’s just PvE. I’ve played this game for thousands of hours — and there’s still things I haven’t seen or done. I have no crafters at max level, there’s still a couple of trials I haven’t got around to unlocking, and Eureka is still something of a mystery to me... So yeah. FFXIV is big.

It helps that patches are big, too. Long, encyclopediac patch notes do little to hide how much gets added to the game every couple of months; even now, after reducing the number of dungeons added every odd-numbered patch, it takes me days just to get to grips with everything that’s been added whenever the game is updated.

But with every patch, it seems like something promising is added that just doesn’t land. People who play Lord of Verminion might as well be unicorns, because I’ve never seen one. That’s not because these things aren’t lovingly crafted or without merit — nor is it because there’s no appetite for side content.

For example, during a previous live letter, I’ve seen Twitch chat absolutely clamouring for Blitzball, the aquatic soccer(?) game from FFX. But in March, producer Naoki Yoshida said in an interview with Mogtalk that he was concerned people might burn through it quickly if it was faithful to the original: “I’m sure there are lots of people who want this, but I can’t shake my concern that people would get tired of this after playing through it just once.”

As much as I’d like to see Blitzball, Yoshi-P isn’t wrong to consider that this might be its fate, because it’s not like there’s no precedent. The latest piece of content with a short lifespan was Rival Wings, the charming moba-style PVP mode. It was well received on release, not least because it was something really different, but, at least on Chaos, the EU data center, it’s incredibly difficult to queue into now because there just aren’t enough people playing it to fill matches.

That’s not to say it’s impossible, and there are groups dedicated to getting enough playerstogether to make it work. Over on the Aether data center, players have organised Rival Wings / Astragalos days, having enough bodies to have two simultaneous 48v48 games running at once. That’s not insignificant, and it’s a testament to this game’s community that initiatives like this are conceived of, organised, and actually come off successfully. But it’s also mystifying why it’s necessary in the first place.

XIV has a huge playerbase and plenty of different paths to follow; if you don’t like certain content, chances are you can find an alternative you do enjoy. So why do some things seem to fall off so quickly? Part of it, I think, is down to rewards.

Palace of the Dead wasn’t loved by everyone, but it remains an exceptionally efficient way to level alts. Consider squadron dungeons: Once the ability to constantly spam bard/archer AoEs for ultra-fast clears was removed, the number of people actually doing them appeared to fall dramatically. PVP was, for a short period after Stormblood’s release, an incredibly fast way to level jobs; once the exp reward was slashed for those who weren’t on the winning team, players drifted away. For content where the rewards are a one time thing (such as the mount from Rival Wings), XIV’s player base seems content chasing another carrot entirely once they’ve got what they want out of it.

I also think that the developers are comfortable experimenting to an extent not often seen in MMOs. I don’t think anybody expected them to code a minion-based RTS and actually implement it. This culture of just trying stuff out is good, and I don’t want it to ever change,  but people aren’t guaranteed to love everything you do if it’s so different from the game’s core. The experience at the heart of XIV hasn’t changed all that much since ARR, and that’s what players pay their subs for. The further you get away from that, the less of a guarantee it’s going to be that everyone likes it.

The challenge, then, is figuring out how to incentivise people to try new things — and to make sure the experiments that add to XIV’s charm add to the game for the long term and not just in the weeks following the patch. One-time rewards do little in this regard, and nerfing content that gives better rewards than initially intended (such as the EXP from PVP) has a track record of killing the playerbase’s interest in it. After all, if you’re no longer getting as much as you used to out of something, why would you go back?

It’s perhaps more important now than it has been at any other point in XIV’s lifespan. I mentioned earlier that the number of dungeons added per patch has fallen (down to one in odd-numbered patches), and it’s been explained that the motivation behind this is to free up resources for new features. This is a good idea, and certain additions — even those as small as the glamour dresser — have been demanded for years.

But content on the bleeding edge, whether it be Blitzball or anything else, needs to add value and keep players coming back. The PVE core of the game does that, but if resources are being directed away from it to create new stuff, then it’s imperative that whatever’s on the horizon starts doing it too.

Michael O’Connell-Davidson / Michael O'Connell-Davidson is MMORPG.com's FFXIV columnist. Follow him on twitter @mikeocd.
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